Monday, January 29, 2007

Embraceable You

Mime idea swiped from Jemima, Queen of Mimes. Answers courtesy of my iTunes on shuffle.

Q: What does next year have in store for you?

"Toda Cor" - Titãs. Eu preciso de você agora, por favor meu bem não vai embora. Translated: I need you now, please my love don't leave.

Q: What does your love life look like next year?

"Limón y Sal" - Julieta Venegas. One of my favorite songs currently. Such a beautiful, sweet love song. Sólo tenerte cerca, siento que vuelvo a empezar, Yo te quiero con limón y sal, Yo te quiero tal y como estás, No hace falta cambiarte nada, Yo te quiero si vienes o si vas, Si subas o bajas o no estás, Seguro de lo que sientes. Translated: Just having you near me, I feel I can start again. I love you with lemon and salt, I love you exactly as you are, No need to change anything about you, I love you if you are coming or going, If you come up or go down or aren't here, Certain of what you feel.

Q: What do you say when life gets hard?

"I'm Sorry" - Bluegrass de la Vuelta. Especially if I'm the one making life hard.

Q: Song that reminds you of good times?

"Trickle" - Olive. First heard this artist in my Nia white belt training last February in Cape Town. That was one of the best weeks of my life.

Q: What do you think when you get up in the morning?

"Tanto Amar" - Chico Buarque. Another sweet love song. Nice to know this is the underlying sentiment when I open my eyes and see another person in my bed. If I had to pick the song I think it would be more along the lines of "I Hate my Fucking Alarm Clock" by 10 More Minutes.

Q: What song will you dance to at your wedding?

"La Paz de Tus Ojos" - La Oreja de Van Gogh. Whatever. The REAL answer to this question is "Touch in the Night" by Freshlyground.

Q: Song that reminds you of your first kiss?

"If Dreams Come True" - Ella Fitzgerald. Perfect answer if my first kiss hadn't been a traumatic, slobbery affair while watching "Jurassic Park" in an overly air-conditioned movie theater.

Q: Your favorite saying?

"Caravan" - John Santos and the Machete Ensemble. Hmmm. Latin jazz song from collection called Cuba Without Borders. Something to do with being a 21st Century Nomad, perhaps?

Q: Favorite place?

"Can't Cry Anymore" - Sheryl Crow. The calm when you've sobbed it all out and actually feel a bit better is always a favorite of mine.

Q: Most missed memory?

"Amore Che Vieni, Amore Che Vai" - Fabrizio de André. My grandma gave me this cd for my birthday and, I must say, it is amazing. Saudades of loves that come and go? Sure.

Q: What song describes your best friend?

"Bittersweet Symphony" - The Verve. There is something bittersweet about not having one lifelong best friend, rather a handful of amazing people that I share best-friend-type connections with yet only see about once every 7 years.

Q: What song describes your ex?

"Viva Pernambuco" - Antúlio Madureira. Excellent frevo music from a local Recife artist. Fitting only if this represents the hate I'm sure my ex feels for Brasil. Viva!

Q: Where would you go on a first date?

"Atimo em Pó" - Gilberto Gil. I admit I've never really listened closely to this song. But I'd go to a Gilberto Gil concert for a first date in a heartbeat.

Q: Drug of choice?

"Ideologia" - Cazuza. Excuse me while I get up on my soapbox. I'm in need of a high. Ideologia, eu preciso de uma pra viver...

Q: What song describes yourself?

"O Pulso" - Titãs with Arnaldo Antunes. This song lists every disease imaginable in the verses - typhoid fever, chicken pox, toxoplasmosis, malaria, hepatitis, mumps, depression, schizofrenia - then goes on to a simple chorus: o pulso ainda pulsa. The pulse still pulses. Despite it all, some do survive.

Q: What is the thing you like doing most?

"Black is Beautiful" - Elis Regina. Uh oh. She died of a cocaine overdose. Definitely not what I like best. Analyzing in another way, I suppose I love to see all the unique ways in which I'm gorgeous. Seriously. I am vain. I love clothes and jewelry and makeup. I often gaze into my own eyes in a mirror and think that I am beautiful. In my case it's Light Olive of Italian Descent Is Beautiful. Despite all the self-image problems. Go figure.

Q: What is the song that best describes the President?

"Don't Think of Me" - Dido. Won't that be nice one day when he's finally out of office and his dreadful decisions have ceased to make international headlines.

Q: Where will you be in 10 years?

"Buena" - Morphine. That's right. I'll be super buena, the very definition of hottness approaching 40. See? The vanity's still there.

Q: Your love life right now?

"Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World" - U2. A better definition of how I feel right now could not be found, I think. I am unbelievably happy and I know how lucky I am. I want everything to work out forever and the idea that life can go wrong makes me want to grab it all and hold on tight, no matter how impossible a feat this is.

Q: What is your state of mind at the moment?

"Real Wild Times" - Stoic Frame. Local band from New Mexico - yay state pride! I think this is spot on. I mean, I do live in Mozambique and am contemplating a move to Rio de Janeiro. Definitely some real wild times for the girl from Albuquerque.

Q: How will you die?

"Favourite Item" - Elvis Costello. Death by silver necklace??

Q: The song you'll put as a subject?

"Embraceable You" - Billie Holiday with Eddie Heywood.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - Chronicles

It's been a while since my last contribution to Sunday Scribblings. For this week's prompt I will keep with dictionary definition #2 of Chronicle and offer you a "detailed record or report," in this case straight from the joural I kept during my exchange year in Brasil in all its unaltered teenage-angsty glory.

When I wrote this I had just turned 16 years old and was on a boat trip through the Amazon with 28 fellow exchange students from around the world.

06 December, 1997

We packed up this morning and got ready to board the boat. I went to the supermarket to buy water, cookies and fruit. Then I went to town again to take pictures. Santarém was so different than Manaus or Presidente Figuereido. It was a dry, slow, poor town that had it's own hot, tropical beauty. There were little kids filling buckets with drinking water who looked scared of me until I'd smile.

We got on the boat and I'm sort of in shock. It's not an amazingly large ship or anything - it's 3 stories high, not too long. But, somehow 400 people fit on it. There are people packed together sleeping in redes (hammocks) - it's like a cattle car. We're staying in air-conditioned cabins, 4 people per room. It's incredibly squashed and I feel claustrophobic in our cabin. There's not even room to walk around. We watched a really sad movie about a little boy with AIDS - it made me homesick. We're going to be on this boad for the next 2 days. Aaahh!!

I was sitting near the rail of the boat when we set off and I got to see the "encontro das águas" (meeting of waters) of the Tapajós and Amazonas rivers. It was like a line of green against brown. I was sitting looking at the water and I began thinking abotu stuff. Who my friends really are, how I'm really alone when it comes down to it, my various experiences travelling, and home in the US. I was in a strange, pensiove mood which was a nice change.

07 December, 1997

Day two on the boat. Last night I slept more than I have in quite a while. I think it's from the lack of anything else to do. Last night, we went on a cachaça (sugarcane alcohol) mission. Tim bought it on the mainland and hid it in his shirt. Other than that, I spent the evening watching movies in our room.

Slept late this morning, took a cold shower in our small, rusty bathroom. Now we're all sitting on deck just hanging out and writing in gringo books and journals.

I feel weird. Sort of depressed, sort of bored, sort of confused. I have that panicky, trapped feeling about eating again. I feel fat - I can't escape it. I want to be sick so I can be skinny. I desperately want a scale, just so I can know how much I've gained or lost. I feel so jealous of K. sometimes. She has a perfect stomach and all the brazilians love her. She tries so hard and loves every activity we do. I feel inadequate.

I need to get off this boat. I need to occupy myself. I need some motivation not to eat. I need confidence. I need hope.

I've been feeling a bit homesick on this trip. I guess it's because I've had a lot of experiences that remind me of, or make me want to be with Mom. This was the first time I've gotten sick and thrown up without her - I want someone to hold my hair and stroke my face and hug me better. Also, the last time I was overnight on a boat was in Greece. This makes me remember what I was going through then. I feel desperate and alone.

But then I watch the brazilians here dance their seductive, latin dances and I think life will go on and thigns will be okay. These people live their lives packed into hammocks, waiting, waiting. Waiting an dwatchign the muddy river and the trees, the scenery that never seems to change. It's a slow, hot existence but they survive. I, also, will survivie.

My problems are different, pettier perhaps. I just need to keep my silver bracelet close to my heart, the knowledge from "The Power of One", the memories and lessons that are still in my home in New Mexico, my music, my photography, the memories of beaches - Grado, Greece, Tahiti, Hawaii, Brazil - and the knowledge I already have gotten here in Brazil, and I'll be okay. I can't give up, no matter how fat or lonely I feel. Each day I can start over.

I read back through these entries and, while I can literally remember the table on the boat deck I was sitting on and the pen I was using to write and the desperation of the moment as if it were yesterday, it seems like these adventures unfolded centuries ago and were the chronicle of a completely different person.

It makes me sort of sad to read back through my journals. I've wasted a lot of time already on the same issues, but at least I'm going through all this at my age and not 50 years from now.

Some things make me smile. I still love beaches and just thinking of collecting shells in the sand can make me instantly calm. We went to the beach today at Inhaca island and I collected shells and swam in the warm water for hours. It was exactly what I needed, just as it was back when I was 16.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Latest Designs

Dark blue freshwater stick pearls, satin finish glass beads

Lilac japanese seed beads, iridescent handmade glass beads, 3-strand braid necklace and earrings

Necklace and earring set of quartz crystal teardrops, fuschia swarovski bicone accents

Silver irreguarl freshwater pearls, freshwater round pearls, quartz and sterling silver accents

Necklace that I will keep because it represents my parents. Turquoise and silver pendant was a gift from my Dad. Multi-color turquoise rondelles were a gift from my Mom. Design idea and handiwork by yours truly.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Deliberation on Next Steps

Lone Poppy. Fredericksburg, Texas. 2004

I think it's safe to say that 85% of the major decisions I've made in life have been based on intuition. After learning a bit about my wanderings and adventures, people often ask, "Weren't you afraid to ______________?" Fill in the blank with any number of life choices such as Study in Brasil at Age 15, or Live Alone in Rio de Janeiro, or Move to Mozambique, or even Get in a Serious Relationship with Your Boss.

The answer is "no". I've never been afraid to take these leaps of faith because I blessed with an insanely strong intution. With most big decisions, I just know. I can always provide a string of rational arguments as to why my choice is a solid one to appease parents, friends or colleagues as necessary; however a reasonable weighing of pro's and con's isn't what ultimately motivates me to pack up everything and move across continents. Certain options simply feel right on a cellular level, bringing about, when pondered, a slow-wave resonance that grounds my gut and calms my worrying mind.

For the last year or so, I've been in somewhat of a funk and can make a laundry list of things that I don't like about my present situation. I'm far from my family and it's a long, expensive trip to go home. I miss them so much I want to cry. I don't have a structured work environment and allow myself to procrastinate endlessly, at my own expense. I am super cynical about development work and feel this attitude creep into my ability and willingness to do consulting work. I don't even like consulting work to begin with (I think). Our income is ridiculously unstable and the fluctuations and financial stress are more than I ever experienced as a student. Oh yeah, I was supported by my parents back then. Oh yeah, if I'm honest I still am and have loads of debt to eventually repay to the Bank of Mom and Dad. I sleep too much but am always tired. I have these God awful allergies that are undoubtedly stress-related. I don't have access to competent medical care. I miss having access to healthy, organic food. I feel fat. I miss my friends. I feel guilty about all the poverty I see around me, but at the same time resent the "handout" mentality of so many people I've come across in Mozambique. Some days I truly believe there is no solution to the problems here, and that worse yet, I may be part of the problem myself. I could go on, and on, and on. Pity party for Ali.

Some days it gets so bad that I call my Mom or Dad or Ricardo and moan and cry on Skype about how unhappy I am here. I've lived in Mozambique for almost 2 years and I still don't feel like I'm in my element. Okay, recently I've made some really amazing girlfriends and I do admit this has helped elevate my quality of life and well-being at least 200%. And I do have a wonderful boyfriend. And family. But there are still these days when I am simply miserable. I feel lost professionally and uprooted personally. What to do, what to do?

Sick of playing poor me, and supported by my boyfriend who is no doubt sick of hearing about poor me, we started to devise a plan. Rico and I have been considering our options for several months, weighing the benefits and downsides of staying here in our present occupations, looking for stable work in Moz, moving back to Brasil, moving to the US, moving to Italy, moving to Dubai.

The one obvious thing was that something's got to give. My body is giving me that message loud and clear. First with these lousy allergy attacks on a weekly basis with no cure and no medicines or treatments out there that give me any relief, then this week I got a case of psoriasis on my scalp. The other day I was sitting at the computer running my hands through my hair when I felt these crusty layers of scalp peeling off at my fingertips. I freaked out, ran to the bathroom mirror, and started madly scratching at these thick plates on my head. It was supremely gross, and it freaked me out. Thankfully Jenny had some Neutrogena T-Gel that she gave me that seems to be helping, but guess what? Stupid psoriasis is caused by, among other things, stress. I'm sure the heat wave of late hasn't helped either, but my body is sending some serious "Pay Attention to Me and Change Shit Around in Your Life" messages.

Glad to oblige. As I said, Rico and I have been making plans. I haven't shared in the blog yet because I don't know who reads this and Maputo is a really, really small place and I didn't want news to get out before we'd had a chance to make an announcement to our collegagues. Oh, well.

Today I've decided to write.

Basically Rico got offered a job in Rio de Janeiro that is supposed to start in April. We're both tired of living on the edge financially speaking - one month we get king's salaries, then have no paying clients for the next 5 months - so he accepted the offer. We were all set making plans for the big move. Sell all of our things, break our lease on the flat, figure out how to ship the boys to Brasil, purchase tickets, etc. I even just sent out an e-mail to my friends in Brasil finally letting them in our plans (we've been plotting for several months but I've kept my mouth shut as has Rico).

For me, on the surface at least, a move to Brasil seemed to be a welcome thing. There's the casa rosa that I am completely in love with and have never truly lived in, Rio is one of my favorite cities on earth, I have lots of friends there from when I went to school in 2000/2001, Rico's family is there, it's an easy and much cheaper plane ride back to the US to visit my family.

Not to mention that I've been plotting a total career change to be a jewelry designer and creator and Brasil seems like an exciting market in which to launch my collection. I've been working on a business plan, imagining what my site will be like for online purchases, and even brainstorming about a way to involve women from the favelas around the casa rosa to train them in jewelry making techniques, and launch a parallel jewelry line made by these women whose proceeds will benefit the community.

It's like all I can do is eat, breathe and dream jewelry these days. I've been having regular jewelry parties at my house as well as the craft fairs as usual. I'm starting to create a name for myself here in Maputo as a jewelry designer and that is an amazing feeling. I sit and imagine a life spent pursuing a craft that I am passionate about, plus a component of social good. I want to set an example by doing what I love in this life. I want to get away from the ego-and-money-driven world of consulting, even when it masquerades as development work. One of the advantages of Rico accepting a stable, normal job in Rio is that we'll have a guaranteed income and I'll actually be able to take 2 years or whatever and take metalsmithing and gemology classes and try and make this jewelry thing work.

It all seemed to be coming together. Plans made, paths targeted for a better, less stressful future. Then it all changed.

Just this week Rico was semi-offered a professional opportunity here that would make it worthwhile for us to stay. It has to do with a high-profile venture capital fund and a well-connected person that has recommended Rico for a key position managing said fund. Rico's decision to leave Maputo is based on financial terms. If the potential to make money is greater here, Rico would like to stay. If the accompanying ups and downs of a consultant's life are too high a price to pay, then a stable job in Brasil is the way to go even if it means a lower income. (Oh yeah, he also likely bases his decision to stay or go based on the crazy mood swings and desires of yours truly, as explained earlier in this post.) So now, just as we have confirmed dates for our move and are starting to announce that we will leave Maputo in April, this fabulous once-in-a-professional-lifetime chance comes up for Rico. If one thing we've learned here, it's that things don't always work out as you hope they will or as they are promised to you. So we're not counting our chickens before they hatch. Things could totally fall through and we're prepared for this. But the idea is exciting and has made both of us re-think our decision to leave in April.

Rico is a rational thinker and does not make decisions motivated by intuition (at least that's how it appears to me). He came to Moz to make money and to take advantage of an opportunity in the market. Once there is better money or more opportunities elsewhere, his decision is simple: Leave.

My motivations are a bit more difficult to pinpoint. I came to Mozambique because I felt it was the right path to take. I didn't come to make money or to become a super successful consultant. I didn't come to save all the poor children and I didn't come to find my spiritual roots in mighty Africa. I moved because it felt like the right thing to do. I had high hopes about this experience and felt that I could make a difference somewhere, somehow.

Now, despite all the supremely frustrating moments, rampant cynicysm, bouts with depression and general moaning about how hard it is to live here, my gut says that we should stay. If I had to make the decision today, even without the certainty of this great opportunity for Rico, I'd choose not to leave.

This seems crazy on so many levels. I feel like I've been pushing everyone to get the hell out of here and now, if I'm really honest with myself, I don't think I want to leave. I can't even begin to explain it. I just feel as if it would be a step in the wrong direction to abandon ship after nearly 2 years (3 in Rico's case) of hard work, blood, sweat, tears and money poured into making something work in Africa. It's been phenomenally hard for me to admit this because I feel guilty about wanting to stay, even if it is a very split decision and part of me still wants to go to Brasil or the US. I feel like I'm going to disappoint my parents, my friends and Beth, the lonely woman who takes care of the casa rosa and is like a member of our family. Ha - look at me - making decisions worrying about how others will think and feel instead of what I how I will think and feel. The very enemy of intuition and good decisions right there...

Even crazier is that my hate for consulting has been somewhat tempered. I definitely don't want this to be my main occupation, and I am gut-level certain that I want to give jewelry design a legitimate chance. But...I don't want to turn my back completely on this work. I know that I have a gift for the particular role I play in our consulting work - translating other people's ideas and projects into convincing, bankable business plans and grant applications - and I don't want to leave it behind 100%.

I am conscious, however, of continuing with this work in whatever capacity for the right reasons. I don't want to be a consultant because I'm driven by a need for recognition. I don't want to do this because I need to be reminded that I am "the best" at something, that I write words worth millions and millions of dollars - literally. I want to continue doing part-time consulting and fundraising because of the aspects of this line of work that I legitimately enjoy. I love the challenge of creating a framework for a document, the mix of creativity and solid business knowledge that go into writing about the complexity of a project. I like to be an engineer of words as much as I like to be an artist of words. Technical and creative writing are equally as satisfying to me, each forcing me to flex my linguistic abilities in a unique way.

And wouldn't you know, there seems to be a steady stream of work coming my way in terms of consulting opportunities here in Maputo. Not to mention the fact that of the 3 potential markets I've considered for launching my jewelry business - Mozambique, Brasil and the US - this one is actually the most interesting because I am exclusive in the market. Granted there is that whole problem with the postal system, but I'll work my way around it if need be. For the first time in a long time, I feel excited about the possibilities of Mozambique again. Still cynical, but motivated and inspired. I suppose that's the difference almost 2 years of Africa makes; it is the slow, painful transition from Idealist to Realist.

This ended up being much longer than I'd expected. I guess I needed to get some things off my chest. I've been thinking a lot lately...sometimes a good write in the blog makes things clearer.

Bottom line: I don't know what we will do. Perhaps we will leave in April, perhaps we will stay and start a new chapter in our Mozambican experience. For now that's okay.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

As of Late...

The Good:
  • Lots of new beads and jewelry supplies thanks to recent shipments from family and boxes smuggled into Moz on my behalf by friends going back to the US for the holidays.
  • Rico and I re-joined the gym after nearly 7 months absence. We each set health goals - Rico is already way ahead of his and I am plodding along right on track. Slow going, but it actually feels really good to be back on a treadmill/stationay bike/instrument of torture of the day.
  • After 2.5 days without water in our building, we can now flush the toilet, wash the dishes and have a shower like regular city-dwellers again.
  • We have ample work. The project on horticultural production for FAO is well underway, our timber project looks as if it may (finally!) be funded, and we've renewed contact with the banana client and are going to finish a strategic plan for the expansion of his business.
  • I'm throwing another jewelry/brownie/cocktail party this week. The last one was quite successful and I'm really looking forward to this one. I've made tons of cool new stuff, and thanks to free publicity from my girls here in Maputo, I've started to make a name for myself in this city as a jewelry designer.

The Bad:

  • Cable/internet company charging us on direct debit for 6 months of service instead of just 1, thus wreaking havoc on my small savings and launching us into a customer service war like never before seen to obtain a refund.
  • Vodacom sending me an SMS that my phone would be cut off on Saturday due to lack of payment. Detail: this month's bill was debited from our account just last week, and we had a bank statement at home to prove it. Cue yet another customer service war, although this one took one simple fax to resolve in the end.
  • My hair. I desperately need a haircut. Chopping it off myself worked in the short-term, but now it's grown out and looks plain awful.

The Ugly:

  • Heat wave last week with temperatures well over 40C for several days. We have no air conditioning. For part of the heat wave, we had no water at home. Thank God we joined the gym because we could at least have a shower...although the aircon there broke as well with the excessive temperatures.
  • Allergy attacks more severe than ever, with a record 2 attacks this past week. All the hope I had for holistic treatment here has gone out the window. My only hope at this point is that my allergies will go away as soon as we 1) move away from Moz, 2) have access to proper medical care including allergy specialist, 3) have access to proper holistic care including acupuncturist and homeopath.
  • A friend that is in dire straits and I don't know how to help. It's an awful feeling watching someone in a really, really bad situation when you know that pretty much everyone's hands are tied (even those of the person in the bad situation) and that any course of action would have serious consequences...think violence, threats, etc.
  • Flooding and flood threats along much of the Zambezi River in central Moz. In Quelimane, a city on the coast, they received 344mm of rain over the last 24 hours. That is more than the average rainfall for the entire month of January.

and The Random:

  • The staple diet throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa is a maize porridge called xima, pap, sadza, etc. depending on which country and which language you're dealing with. Maize is the most important crop for most communities here, regardless of what form it comes in. Maize is originally a New World food, so it follows that it was introduced to the African continent by European explorers, likely the Portuguese. How is it that a foreign crop became the overwhelming element of the local diet and what are the reasons for this? What was the staple diet of the people here before the introduction of maize? It is well known that a diet based in maize is not the most balanced or nutritious as far as grains go. Maize is also one of the cheapest crops available. Was this change in food habits economically motivated? I am very curious about this.
  • I highly recommend Saudi Aramco World as a wonderful magazine, either in print or online.
  • Does anyone know how to say "walrus" in Portuguese?

That's all for now. Hope you all are doing well, wherever you are.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Our Definition of a Wild Evening

Sunday afternoon braai at Jenny's with ample supply of beer and wine
Brilliant idea to have a cocktail at Hotel Terminus before calling it an evening
Colorful murals in said hotel's atrium
Cheap and satisfying entertainment for Ali and Rico

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Girls

Remember just a few precious months ago when I'd complain bitterly about not having any girlfriends in Mozambique? Well, the kick-ass-girl-Gods smiled upon me and now I have some of the most gorgeous, coolest sidekicks ever here in Maputo. Jenny, Lies, Tracy, LacitheCat...I really got lucky on this one.

This past Saturday, Jenny, Lies and I decided to go to a restaurant called The Meat Co. at the newly built Polana Casino on the coast. It was a very chic affair and we all went dressed in black, completely by coincidence. As we walked into the restaurant, everyone wanted to know if we were sisters!

Extra ego boost to the fact that these girls have totally supported me in my fledgling jewelry business. It's a bit hard to see the details in the photos, but Jenny is wearing a turquoise and glass pendant necklace of mine, Lies is wearing a pair of delicate black onyx and Swarovski earrings, and I'm full-out bling in a red chandelier earring and lariat necklace set. If it weren't for these girls and their kind words (and purchases), and those of Tracy and LacitheCat, I don't know if I'd have had the courage to say yes to my new incarnation as jewelry maker...well, at least not this quickly!

Jenny and Ali

Ali and Lies

Lies and Jenny

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Glorious South Africa Road Trip 2006/2007

From start to finish: 3500 km

I have been promising for quite a few days that I will post photos from our road trip through South Africa. After much wrangling with blogger and organizing of files, here is a summed up version of all the fun Ricardo and I had on vacation. Enjoy!

The trip started off bright and early with a flight from Maputo to Joburg. It's only a 50 minute flight, but ridiculously expensive even on LAM, Mozambique's national carrier. Each ticket starts at US $350 round trip because of the SADC protectionist measures in place to save this country's national airline. The only other carrier that flies this route is South African Airways, and they are even more expensive. If the route were to be opened up to South Africa's numerous budget carriers, it would have a whopping positive effect on tourism in Mozambique (hello, beach holiday for overworked Joburg residents) and, although it would also likely result in LAM going out of business, the resulting revenues and new jobs in the tourist sector here would certainly justify the loss of the national carrier, at least in purely economic terms.

So, back to our trip. We were up at 4:30am and I was in a terrible mood after a night of severe allergies. Rico was super patient, as always, and we made it to the airport and then to Joburg without much else to report. Upon arriving, we picked up our rental car - a small, tomato red Kia Picanto - and heaved a collective sigh of relief that we'd packed incredibly light for the trip. The trunk of the Picanto was so unbelivably small it barely fit my duffel bag and Rico's backpack. Seriously, I don't know what those car designers were thinking.

First stop on our itinerary was to meet my blogging friend Marcia, who is a life coach and could easily be crowned Southern Africa's organizing queen. We drove to their house just a few minutes from the airport and were greeted with homemade muffins, tea and coffee, thoughtful Christmas gifts, and loads of interesting conversation. Together we represented 4 different countries and had a great time talking about our views on and experiences in Africa and beyond.

Another happy blog-girl reunion.

After our breakfast at Marcia's, Rico and I hit the road and promptly got lost on the complex freeway ring that surrounds Joburg. Thankfully our time on the wrong highway only took us about 20 minutes out of our way. Once we finally got oriented, we headed south for some 400 km to Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State.

For reasons I don't fully understand, (although not to say I don't agree from what we experienced), Bloemfontein has the reputation as the worst city in South Africa. Think of it as that country's Flint, Michigan or perhaps some forgotten city in the deep South (US, that is).

The view of a nuclear plant from our hotel room was a nice touch.

Bear in mind that it was Christmas Eve when we rolled up in Bloem. Everything was closed and we were literally the only car on the road, drawing lots of attention to ourselves amongst the few people out on the streets who, by the looks of things, didn't have many options for a holiday dinner with family. Our hotel was in the middle of downtown, and area that wasn't exactly the most spruced up or tourist oriented.

Rico and I got settled for the evening and immediately called Mr. Delivery to try and find some appropriate food for a Christmas meal. The only restaurant open was Spur, "The Official Restaurant of the South African Family", a steak house that is an Applebee's-type offering only with an American Indian theme. Each Spur restaurant has its own special name like Montana Spur or Running Bull Spur or, as in the case of the only Spur in Mozambique, Utah Spur. Go figure. Anyhow, it was our only option for a meal so we ordered 2 takeaway steaks with onion rings and chips. We forgot to take a picture, but I can say it was the first and likely the last time I'll ever have Christmas dinner out of a box with plastic cutlery while sitting on a hotel bed in a city not my own.

After Bloemfontein, we set out for a long day of driving to enter and cross a large part of the Karoo, a semi-arid expanse of sandstone and basalt that covers much of the middle of South Africa. In some parts, the Karoo is pretty barren and flat; all you see for miles around are flocks of sheep and the occasional windmill powering a lone pump. Then there are truly spectacular areas full of mesas and heavy cumulus clouds that fill the horizon and manage to give New Mexico a run for its money.

It was in one of the more hilly areas that we came to Beaufort West, a small artsy town that is the gateway to the Klein Karoo (meaning Small Karoo - there is also a Great Karoo in South Africa). There we stayed at the Beaufort Manor, a posh guesthouse with what is possibly the world's saltiest saltwater pool. After a mid-day dip in the water, Rico joked that he now knew what I'd look like as an old lady - my hair was completely white, encrusted with a layer of opaque salt crystals.

Our White Christmas ended up being from salt, not snow.

Aside from a little problem we had with Christmas Day dinner - the hotel restaurant had alreayd been fully booked and they'd neglected to leave enough space to accomodate guests...we ended up being "accomodated" after the receptionist told us to go look around the town to see if anything was open and, when nothing was, they let us have our paid spot at dinner after all the other patrons had eaten - it was a pleasant stay. Not much to report given that it was a holiday and everything from restaurants to tourist attractions was closed.

We hit the road and drove through some incredible mountains on our way to Knysna on the coast. The rocks were buckled and folded as if God had pulled out a long piece of taffy and molded it until just right. It made for some pretty amazing driving.

Our little Kia seemed even smaller on this road.

The geological geek in me did some research about these mountains and I found out some pretty amazing facts. The coastal mountains of South Africa are some of the oldest formations on earth, lifted up by the shifting plates of Gondwanaland millions of years ago. At the time these mountains were formed, the would have been trumped in height only by the Himalayas and the highest peaks of the Andes. Since the South African mountains are so much older than any of the others on earth, they've had a jump start on erosion. Today, after countless millenia of wind and rain, they barely register on the list of the world's tallest mountains.

After a day's driving through the mountains and an exciting descent on a fog-laden road, we arrived in Knysna (n-EYE-zna). Knysna is on the coast and is one of the preferred destinations for vacationers from Gauteng (the most wealthy Province in SA; contains gold mines, Johannesburg and an insane amount of 4x4s). In an attempt to escape the hordes of holiday makers with boats and campers, we took a drive down the coast to see the sights.

Key attractions included Monkey Land, a sanctuary where primates from all over the world are rescued from unmentionable conditions in zoos and people's homes where they are no longer wanted as pets. We took a hike through the sanctuary and got to see all sorts of cool monkeys and lemurs.

This bespectacled guy came from a zoo in Israel, while his South American monkey friends used to be somebody's pet.

We continued down the road and decided to take a scenic detour through a Fynbos reserve and a virgin coastal forest.

You know how they say couples begin to resemble each other? I think Rico and I are venturing down that path.

After this lookout point we continued into the Eastern Cape Province to visit the world's largest arch span bridge that doubles as the world's highest commercial bungee jump point. Rico and I weren't remotely interested in taking the plunge, but we did sit and have a beer while watching all of the other fools flinging themselves into the gorge.

It doesn't matter how many meters down...I'd never have the courage to bungee jump.

On our way back towards Knysna we discovered yet another scenic route that was parallel to the canyon with the bridge. We drove through the forest and found the river that carved out the gorge.

Many of the trees in this forest are endemic to coastal South Africa, including rare cycads.

We checked out the amber colored water of the river, then decided to follow the road signs to a place called Nature's Valley. It was the first proper beach we visited in South Africa and the cloudy skies cleared up just in time for us to explore the estuary, complete with sand dunes along the banks where the river pours into the ocean.

Just a little more wind and I'd be rocking a full-on side ponytail with wave bangs.

As you can see from my sweet 1984-inspired hairdo, it was extremely windy at Nature's Valley. Actually all of South Africa was really windy, but the beaches were beautiful despite the flying sand and chill that many times we had to brave.

The only thing missing for Rico was a sailboat...

The beaches were also chock-full of beached jellyfish of all sizes. I was fascinated by these creatures and, in the absence of seashells to collect (my usual beach pastime), I went from jellyfish to jellyfish checking out the tentacles, body color and size, occasionally giving one or another a prod with my Havaiana-protected foot.

These jellies turn reddish purple with sun exposure and were everywhere on the beach. A lifeguard told us it was the first time they'd ever appeared in this part of South Africa, surely an effect of global warming.

Some of the jellyfish were easily the size of a person's head, while others were so small and fragile the only way you could see them was if the sun's angle was just right.

My sandal, but not my handprint. Although beached jellies don't sting, I wasn't brave enough to risk it.

Once we'd had enough sand and sun at Nature's Valley, we drove back to Knysna and headed to a beach on the other side of the town called Breton-on-Sea. It was a posh little community full of nicely kept summer homes, with a nice beach where para-gliders and kite surfers took good advantage of all the wind.

A wind sports paradise.

An interesting feature of Breton-on-Sea is that you can easily see evidence of a previous sea level from thousands of years ago. Now the water level is much lower and there are some amazing rock formations exposed.

Tide pools and crashing waves on an ancient seabed now exposed.

The next morning it was time for us to leave Knysna. The weather was beautiful and we decided to visit Wilderness beach before heading up the mountains again to a town called Oudtshoorn.

It was about 11am and the sun was out full-force. We'd run out of sunscreen so I asked Rico to buy a bottle when we stopped for gas along the highway. He came out of the convenience store and said there was only one type of sunscreen in the little shop, that it looked a little vagabundo. Surely, I told him, some cheap-o sunscreen was better than getting terribly burned on the beach.

We found a spot to park the car and made our way down to a gorgeous expanse of sand. Rico asked me to put some sunscreen on his back and passed me the bright orange bottle of TropiFun. I squeezed out a big dollop of cream into my palm, took one look, and immediately broke into hysterical giggles. The sunscreen was glimmering gold and full of sparkles.

"What's so funny?" Rico asked, his back to me and unable to see the glittery contents of my hand. I could barely speak between belly-laughs.

"Look," I managed to sputter, and showed Rico my hands which at this point looked as if they'd been dipped in gold leaf.

"Que merda!" Rico grabbed the orange bottle and examined it. "So that's what 'shimmer' means. I knew this stuff was worthless. Puta que pariu!"

I made a move to put the glittery cream on Rico's back. "Oh no you don't," he said twisting his torso away from me.

"Rico, it's better than getting burned and it's much better than getting cancer. A little shimmer won't kill you. Besides, we don't know these people and we'll never see them again in our lives."

Poor Rico heaved a sigh and consented. "Do it. Fine." He grimaced as if I were rubbing acid into his back and I couldn't help myself and burst out laughing again. From his shoulders to the elastic band of his swim trunks, Rico was a vision in gold.

Then came time for the big question. "Amor, can I blog about this?"

And thus the word "shimmer" made its way into Rico's English vocabulary.

After a long pause, knowing an affirmative answer would earn him some serious points, Rico nodded yes. "Thank God none of my friends back in Rio read this," he muttered. "I'd never hear the end of it."

The beach was great, but we had to leave only after about an hour to get on the highway again. We traveled up the mountains along an narrow and twisting road, enjoying the views of the beach we'd just been at hundreds of meters below. After crossing the mountains, the scenery changed radically and looked remarkably like parts of Northern New Mexico, in particular the Jemez Valley where my Dad and I love to go camping.

Taken from a car window, but you get the idea - red dirt, dotted green vegetation, nice valley.

This was the countryside just before Outdshoorn, a small town known for its ostrich farms (and whose name we were unable to correctly pronounce for most of the trip). In Outdshoorn we stayed at an unbelievable guest house, Foster's Manor. It was built in 1902 during the height of the ostrich feather boom for the Foster family, who apparently were doing quite well for themselves. At that time, a handful of plumes from a male ostrich could easily fetch 1,000 pounds on the international feather market! The guesthouse was amazing, in particular our suite. When the manager opened the door to the room we could hardly believe our eyes.

And all this for less than US $100 per night!

The suite was easily over 80 square meters, with 2 huge beds, a sitting area, a bathroom with a funky claw-footed tub and not 1 but 2 verandas.

The other bed and a fireplace - total luxury.

Entryway of Foster's Manor, decorated in period antiques.

Beautiful painted tiles on Foster's Manor porch.

We had the best meal in Outdshoorn at a fancy Russian-owned restaurant called Kalinka. Rico had a grilled ostrich fillet (it is actually red meat and tastes a bit like beef) and I had roast duck with cherry and sage sauce. Rico and I shared a rocket salad (a.k.a. arugula - my favorite green) and some local Karoo red wine. Let me say that this was one of the most fabulous meals of my entire life. And do you know how much the whole thing cost? US $30. Unbelievable.

One of the main attractions in this part of South Africa is to go to an ostrich farm. These road signs are everywhere to help tourists. Rico and I thought they were hilarious, definitely not your run of the mill road icon.

Yes, the sign shows a person riding an ostrich. More on that later.

Ostriches are such weird animals. They are the only 2-toed birds in the world, and they can literally rip your guts out with said toes (they more resemble dinosaur claws) if they feel threatened.

What? Huh? Did someone say there was food over here?

Ostriches are also greedy little things. One of the activities on our farm tour was to have a neck massage from the birds. Basically you'd back up to a fence with a bucket of ostrich feed and the birds would come peck up the pellets over your shoulders.

Looks like fun, no?

I didn't try this activity because apparently ostriches fancy shiny objects like earrings, and I had all 6 holes in my ears filled with silver. I didn't feel like risking it, so I watched as the family of German tourists in our group experienced the avian neck massage.

Another cool thing about ostriches is that their eggs are not only huge - the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs - they are also super strong. Each individual egg can handle 90kg of direct pressure, a necessary quality to survive mama sitting on her eggs to incubate them.

We had a warning from our guide that these eggs were well past their prime, so please tread lightly.

Then there was the ostrich riding in itself, confirming that the road signs outside the farm had not been misleading advertisements. Initially Rico and I had been all excited about the prospect of riding an ostrich ourselves. However, once we saw what the entire process entailed we were quickly turned off the idea. You know how ostriches stick their heads in the sand when they think they're in danger? Well, the farm hands used the same principle to subdue the ostriches so that adventurous tourists could climb up on their fluffy backs for a photo, covering the poor birds' heads with a burlap sack so that they were semi-tricked out of their stress. The sight of an animal so freaked out that it needed a burlap sack, just so a person could get a thrill and a good photo op (albeit without the bird's big eyes and beaky head), was sort of sickening.

Usually the tourists are allowed to ride the birds, not just sit on them while 2 men hold their long, knobby legs and desperately try to keep them in one place. But on the day we visited it was too hot and there was concern the ostriches would overheat if ridden. Instead, we watched a demonstration of how it's done, courtesy of the farm hands.

Anything goes for a buck these days...

They say it's just like riding a horse. Push the neck to the left, the bird turns left. Push to the right, it turns right. And to stop the ostrich? You grab its neck and pull it all the way back, so that the bird's head is almost resting upside-down on it's feathered back. I happened to take a terribly disturbing picture of the farm hand making the ostrich stop running and decided not to post because I hate looking at it.

So enough ostriches, time for some wine! Cape Town was our next stop, and we decided to take Route 62 which is a famous wine route, specializing actually in port and brandy. We stopped at several cellars for (free!) tastings and ended up buying several bottles of wine, including some of the premium reserve vintages for a whopping US $10. Seriously, wine in South Africa is incredibly delicious and even more incredibly priced. Our favorite was a tawny port from the BoPlaas cellar in Calitzdorp.

3 of our favorites, including a sparkling pinot noir that we had on New Year's.

One cool thing about South Africa is that it has more floral diversity than any other place in the world. In a 15km radius of Calitzdorp, there are more species of plants and flowers than in the whole of Europe! Can you belive that?

After a lovely afternoon drive, we finally arrived in Cape Town.

View from Chapman's Peak Drive, just minutes from the house we stayed in.

We stayed at the house of a woman Rico met on a plane from São Paulo to Joburg in 2005. We had the place all to ourselves because Rico's friend was on a 6-week holiday in Cuba. The house was in a place called Noordhoek, described as the only remaining rural beach in the city. The beach was huge - I've never seen so much sand in my life - and full of people on horseback and doing kite surfing practice.

On this particular day, although you can't really tell from the photo, I was dressed in watermelon colors. I was inspired by Rico's choice of clothing the day before. Nothing like mis-matching clothes while on vacation.

It was so nice to be in a home for a few days, despite all the great hotels we stayed in on the trip. Rico and I went to the organic market and bought tuna and fresh pasta for dinner, and a selection of greek yogurt with honey for breakfast every day. We also washed a load of laundry in a actual washing machine - a big luxury since our machine in Maputo has been on the fritz for over 6 months and we've been living with hand washed clothes.

One of the must-see spots on our itinerary was the Cape of Good Hope since Rico is a sailor and of Portuguese descent.

Over 500 years ago, the Portuguese navigators had this view for the first time.

There are some serious waves in this place, as it is where 2 main ocean currents collide. Contrary to what many people think, it is not, in fact, the Southernmost tip of the African Continent. That geographical point is several kilometers to the East at a point called Cape Agulhas.

There is a large colony of Chacma Baboons at the Cape Point. They are unique amongst primates because they venture onto the seashore to hunt for molluscs to eat.

Rico and I agreed that the Portuguese sailors like Diaz and da Gama were absolutely insane to take ships out in these rough seas in an age of no GPS, no radio communication, no accurate maps, and not even any predecessors to give information about the destination.

These waves are not for beginners.

At the Cape of Good Hope we climbed up a hill to get a view of the entire Cape Point area. Once again it was incredibly windy and cold despite the full sun.

Nice flyaway hair, Ali.

Rock hyraxes, or "dassies" inhabit the cliffs along the Cape. Many of their behaviors reminded us of our cats, although I doubt they are related species.

View of Cape Point. Somewhere back there is an essential lighthouse.

Serious sea foam as the waves crash into the rock cliff.

After many sights and adventures, it was time to say goodbye to 2006 and ring in the New Year. Our chosen place of celebration was a predictable but reliable tourist institution: the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

The Waterfront by day, with Table Mountain rising in the background.

We joined thousands of party-goers from South Africa and all around the world to have some drinks, dance to 80's and 90's flashback hits, watch some fireworks, and try to stay warm despite the brisk wind that evening.

A wool shawl in the middle of summer? Only in CPT.

On New Year's Day we decided to do one last tourist-y thing while in Cape Town and headed up Table Mountain to go on the cableway. When we arrived, the line for tickets stretched halfway around the building and then snaked a significant way down the long access road. Rico and I took one look at each other and decided there was no way we'd waste the day standing in a 3-hour plus line for a ride on a cable car. The view from the ticket station was nearly as good, without any of the associated frustration or cost.

I wish this vacation would last forever!

Happy 2007, everyone, although seriously belated wishes on our part. If you've made it to this point in the post, congratulations, you have the patience of a saint. If you just looked at the pictures, I don't blame you. :) Hope you enjoyed our trip - we certainly did!